Monday, November 19, 2012

"Business without a heart" in San Francisco

John King likes it
From yesterday's NY Times (In San Francisco, Life Without Starchitects):
He[Frank Gehry] was critical of the high-rise building boom under way in San Francisco’s South of Market area, where the newly built towers are boxy and utilitarian. “It’s business without heart,” he said. In the past decade, 13 high-rise condo towers of 20 stories or more have been built in San Francisco. Another four such projects have been approved by the city... 
developers in San Francisco are loath to take architectural risks because the city’s approval process for new development is long and rigorous, perhaps the most onerous in the country, architects say. It’s hard to fault their caution when you consider how small San Francisco really is---47 square miles (Manhattan alone is 23 square miles)---with much of the area consumed by neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. More than the pedigree of the architect, the city worries about things like shadows and wind and, of course, earthquakes...
...But it hasn’t been fear of earthquakes that has held up the approval of a residential tower being designed by Mr. Meier’s firm for the corner of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue. City planners were concerned about how an early design for the building, currently scheduled to have 37 floors, would affect wind conditions for pedestrians, said Bernhard Karpf, an associate partner at Richard Meier & Partners, who is in charge of the project.

“They describe that area as having ‘hazardous wind conditions,’ where people would literally get blown off the street,” Mr. Karpf said. The developer David Choo asked Mr. Meier in 2009 to do something that was “not your traditional San Francisco architecture,” Mr. Karpf said. 
Meier & Partners initially designed a “free-standing sculptural object” on the small site. With approval threatened, the firm hired a Canadian company to test a scale model in a wind tunnel, delaying the design process by another year.
“We had never heard of these kinds of wind regulations,” Mr. Karpf said. “It became almost obsessive on the planning board’s side to make sure wind is mitigated.”
Their frustration mounting, the Meier architects asked the Canadian company to give them three or four shapes that would meet the wind requirements. “We have to move forward,” Mr. Karpf said he told them. “We have to find a solution that works. It may look horrible, but let’s see if we can reverse the process and turn it into a building.”
In the end, the slender shape of the building “was strongly influenced” by studies in the wind tunnel laboratory, which showed that it would “actually improve wind conditions in this part of town,” he said. When Mr. Karpf asked Mr. Choo how he could stand to buy a property and still have nothing to show for it some five years later, he shrugged and told the architect, “That’s the way it works in San Francisco.”
"Improve wind conditions"? Bullshit! More highrise buildings at Market and Van Ness is a terrible idea, since wind conditions there are already extreme because of existing highrises. But real estate interests uber alles! 

The wind tunnel effect is what you inevitably get with highrises. It's no accident that there are high winds at Market and Van Ness, in the financial district---and, in District 5, at McAllister and Fillmore and Haight and Buchanan.
Even more wind tunnels and shadows on public spaces are what we're going to get with the Market and Octavia Plan from our progressive "smart growth" and "transit-oriented development" policies, along with more traffic congestion, since that plan doesn't provide any money for Muni. Let the 10,000 new residents in the area ride bikes!
The Planning Department has already brought us highrises on Rincon Hill---with crucial help from Chris Daly---the ugly De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park by starchitects Herzog and de Meuron, the ugly federal building on Seventh Street by starchitect Thom Mayne, and the ridiculous synagogue at Clement and Park Presidio. 

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